Perception is a major focus throughout the book The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday. By focusing on how we see the world around us and how we choose to react to the world in which we live, Holiday explains the many ways in which we can adapt and overcome the barriers which impede us along our path. For Holiday, our perception can become either a tool that we use to expand the possibilities around us, or a roadblock preventing us from becoming the best possible version of ourselves. Holiday writes,
“We decide what we will make of each and every situation. We decide whether we’ll break or whether we’ll resist. We decide whether we’ll assent or reject. No one can force us to give up or to believe something that is untrue (such as, that a situation is absolutely hopeless or impossible to improve). Our perceptions are the thing that we’re in complete control of.”
Reacting automatically and living on autopilot is an easy way to move through life, but it is also a lifestyle that abandons self-control by giving up consciousness in regards to our perceptions. Allowing our lives to be limited by narrow views of what is possible leaves us in a position where our power to change is insignificant. Rather than allowing our mind to see obstacles in new ways, we double down on limitations, and assume that we were never meant to proceed. We accept that our world is finite, and we give control to another person or what we see on television or to forces that seem to operate above us.
Holiday encourages us to regain control over our choices and our perceptions. I don’t think his message is to simply have greater will power or determination in our lives, though that may be part of what he advocates, but ultimately he encourages more thought and expansion of the way we look at any situation. Life can pull us in many directions and our busy lives may feel like a tornado beyond our control, but through mindfulness and self-reflection, we can begin to recognize the choices we make, and we can begin to recognize how we think about and approach the situations in our life. Changing our perspective and refocusing our thoughts in ways that align with our values will allow us to be more fulfilled. Reaching this point requires the ability to shift our perspectives and to understand the power we have in deciding whether our minds with be fortified and sound, or whether our thoughts will be reactionary and at the discretion of the world around us.
In The Obstacle is the Way, author Ryan Holiday encourages us to run toward the obstacles that appear in our lives instead of constantly trying to avoid obstacles and challenges. He highlights the opportunity for growth that obstacles provide, and shows us how they build new opportunities. He writes, “Obstacles are not only to be expected but embraced…because these obstacles are actually opportunities to test ourselves, to try new things, and, ultimately, to triumph.” This short quote sums up much of Holiday’s thinking surrounding the challenges in our lives and how he views the struggles we will encounter.
What I find great about this quote is Holidays acceptance of struggles and challenges as a necessary part of life. I find that I try so hard to build a life for myself where I will not face challenges and struggles, but it is a useless effort. What Holiday says is that we should expect our lives to be full of obstacles and we should not imagine a perfect future life free from adversity. I think I am stuck in a trap that has been built for people of my generation, the millennial generation, where it is easy to imagine a simple life with all of our desires available accessible, and with all our obstacles mitigated by forces beyond our control. The simple truth is that we will all experience some degree of suffering, and it is through our struggles that we will grow and become better people.
Holiday also shows the importance of building awareness and self-reflection into our life journeys. If we are not aware, then we will not see the opportunities that present themselves in the obstacles that we face. Any bit of adversity that we experience can have a positive side to it, if we understand our reactions and look for ways to use our adversity as a new fortification for the foundations upon which we rest our lives. Without a dose of awareness, we risk crumbling in front of our challenges, unaware that it is this very challenge that could help propel us further.
There are three parts to overcoming our obstacles that Ryan Holiday lays out in his book The Obstacle is the Way. In a single short quote he gives us a quick roadmap for developing ourselves and facing our challenges.
“Overcoming obstacles is a discipline of three critical steps.
It begins with how we look at our specific problems, our attitude or approach; then the energy and creativity with which we actively break them down and turn them into opportunities; finally, the cultivation and maintenance of an inner will that allows us to handle defeat and difficulty.
It’s three interdependent, interconnected, and fluidly contingent disciplines: Perception, Action, and the Will.”
His approach breaks down the barriers that we face and looks at each part of an obstacle to help us see how we can take small steps to face what limits us. It also builds a framework for looking at our problems that can become a committed part of who we are, and a habit that we adopt for thinking about the world. The process is not intended to be a tool that we pull out when needed for a specific job, but rather a mental scaffolding built around our decision making and thought processes.
I think it is very fitting that Holiday calls this process a discipline. It requires self-awareness and self-control to stand back and methodically pick through our obstacles to find creative solutions to bridge the gap between where we are and the success we desire. Even once we have imagined a creative solution we must put forth great effort for that solution to manifest in the real world. Holiday is honest in the quote about about the challenges of applying this discipline. Each of his three steps require taking action that runs counter to the easy path away from our obstacles. Facing and using our obstacles to build new opportunity requires not just determination and strong will-power on our end, but the ability to overcome the negative voices in our head which tell us to turn away from our challenges in search of an easier rout. It requires that we change the way we think about that which limits us, and demands that we find new solutions to the problems we face.
Our new perceptions and novel solutions don’t just help us overcome any single obstacle, but they literally change who we are. The growth we find on our path results from our new ways of looking at the world, and from the practice of building greater will-power to reach our goals. The solutions we develop become a playbook for facing obstacles, and serve as proof of our accomplishments.